President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with tourism industry executives about the coronavirus, in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Trump asks lawmakers for $46B more to battle coronavirus

March 18, 2020 - 8:47 am
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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has sent lawmakers a $46 billion emergency funding request to help the government fight the coronavirus and to reverse cuts proposed just last month to the Centers for Disease Control, the front-line agency in fighting the battle.

The huge request, delivered overnight, would deliver more than $20 billion for the military and for veterans health care. It would fund production of vaccines and treatments, bail out Amtrak for $500 million in revenue losses, and build 13 quarantine centers along the southern border to care for migrants in the U.S. illegally.

The funding is sure to get quick approval from Congress as part of a third emergency coronavirus bill that's being developed on Capitol Hill.

Just last week, director of the White House budget office Russell Vought declined to back away from proposed cuts to the CDC in testimony before Congress. Now, the White House is restoring more than $1.7 billion in cuts to that agency as well as the National Institutes of Health.

The most costly needs include $15 billion for the veterans health system, which serves 9 million people, many of whom are elderly and most vulnerable to the virus. There's also $8 billion for the Pentagon's emergency response fund, a $3 billion fund under Trump's direct control for unanticipated emergencies, more funding for health centers, and $475 million for steps to make federal buildings more safe.

Congress has already passed $8 billion to fight the virus and a second coronavirus response bill — to boost testing and sick leave — could pass the Senate on Wednesday.

The administration has been stingy in its budget requests for the day-to-day operations of domestic agencies, but Trump has signed several rounds of bipartisan appropriations bills that reverse his proposed cuts.

The bill includes $800 million for the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to build up to nine quarantine facilities to care for migrants and to repurpose four ICE detention centers into dedicated quarantine facilities and to make existing facilities safer. There's also $400 million for the homeless to help existing shelters cope with the pandemic and to provide motel vouchers, rental assistance, and help with paying utility bills.

More than $5 billion would go for producing vaccines and treatments for the virus, and the CDC would get an immediate cash infusion for its ongoing efforts to battle coronavirus.

“The Administration is driving a whole-of-Government response that puts the health of the American people first,” Vought wrote in a letter transmitting the request to Congress. “The aim of this request is to maintain that capacity and ensure that resource needs created by the pandemic response are met.”

Vought made clear that the latest request is unrelated to o ngoing discussions about legislation to ease the virus' body slam to the U.S. economy. Those talks could produce a $1 trillion-plus measure that would fund direct payments to individuals and help businesses weather the impact.

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